Monday, 8 July 2013


According to dramatic has a number of related meanings:, but of those on offer the one most applicable to photography is “any situation or series of events having vivid, emotional, conflicting, or striking interest or results”.
The exercise notes are oddly specific. They provide a series of scenarios for dramatising landscapes, ask us to come up with some extra scenarios of our own, and then provide some imaginary examples. This is strangely liberating – I can imagine what I want – attainable or not, but at the same time it feels like a trick missed. This module is definitely an improvement over previous modules of the course in encouraging engagement with the photographic “canon”, so why not ask for concrete examples as well? perhaps it’s to see if we will use our initiative, so I’m going to do both.
First off then, their examples:
  • inherently spectacular subjects – huge waterfalls might be an obvious example – and there are some real examples of my own in this post. Other imaginary examples might include huge forest trees, dramatic surf, towering cloud formations – the list is nearly endless.
  • extreme focal length – wide angle lenses give the opportunity for huge depth of field so perhaps a dramatic contrast between a clump of meadow flowers and a mountainous background or a huge building would fit the bill – this real life example from Ansel Adams lacks the contrasting subject matter and relies simply on the perspective and light for its effect. At the other end of the scale, maybe using an telephoto to isolate a detail, such as a single tree or a person, against a frame filling background would do the trick. For example, this shot taken from a fell road in west Cumbria:
  • rich colours at sunrise or sunset – could be used to add dramatic lighting to an existing landscape – for example the alpenglow that Rowell demonstrates in Mountain Light, or a startling colour cast on a red sandstone cliff – as per many Joe Cornish images.
  • back lighting – can be used to create sunstars and dramatic lighting contrasts, as in my previous post, but can also be used to give an almost luminous feel to a field of grass or a hillside vineyard when the sun catches the underside of the leaves.
  • unusual composition – placing a small object close to the edge of a frame might work as a “reveal” showing the true scale of the primary subject only after a short inspection of the whole image, or might increase a sense of loneliness. Another approach might be a dramatically skewed horizon to emphasize the power of waves, or a shot taken vertically into the tree tops or over a cliff edge.
Adding to these with a few ideas of my own:
  • night shots have an inherent sense of drama, especially when they include artificial lighting
Salford Quays - IWM and the Lowry Centre
  • extreme weather conditions can offer drama of the own – lightning strikes and tornadoes are obvious examples, but even storm fronts can offer drama, as in this image, which is perhaps also an example of unusual composition with its very low horizon:
  • unusual aspect ratios offer can make a relatively mundane image more dramatic by altering the way we engage with it. My cereal field shots are (hopefully) a case in point. Displayed as a standard format they could be taken in in a single glance, but presented as a 5:1 panorama our eyes are forced to wander through the field, seeking detail and context.
  • a distant viewpoint, as per Hatakeyama’s city shots or quarries can add drama by setting us outside the image – converting it to a theatrical spectacle. An unusual or potentially precarious viewpoint emphasises this still further – Rowell’s mountain photography offers several examples of this – with this shot of a friend on Half Dome in Yosemite a particular favourite.
  • a final example would be simply to reduce the image to black and white. Many of Adam’s images would – I suspect - seem less dramatic in colour, and the high contrast opportunities offered by black and white can significantly alter the impact of an image.

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